NEWARK — After having their preseason derailed due to the poor air quality that suffocated the Bay Area for the last week and a half, the Sacred Heart Cathedral boys’ basketball team hit the floor for the first time on Saturday morning to open the annual Nor Cal Tip-Off Classic at at Newark Memorial High School.
After taking a seven-point lead in the second quarter against Stuart Hall in the event’s opening game, though, the Irish headed into the locker room at halftime down 23-21.
“We told our guys to stay sound and stay aggressive,” said Sacred Heart Cathedral assistant coach Keith Smith. “Just keep the intensity up that we started out the game wit out of the gate.”
Using a seven-and-a-half minute stretch from the back end of the third quarter to the midway point of the fourth, in which Sacred Heart Cathedral held Stuart Hall scoreless, the Irish secured a 57-46 win to open their season against their cross-town rivals.
The Irish opened up a 5-0 lead on Stuart Hall, getting to the rim early and often. By the end of the first period, Sacred Heart Cathedral would open up a 16-10 advantage, led by guards Oisin McCormack and Kori McCoy, who each had four points in the quarter.
In the second quarter, after increasing their lead to seven, Sacred Heart Cathedral began to lose traction, as the Knights settled into the game. Giving up an 11-2 run over the course of the next six minutes, the Irish found themselves down by two points with less than a minute remaining in the first half.
Much of the problems for Sacred Heart Cathedral came in the form of missed shots in the paint. Although the Irish forced 12 Stuart Hall turnovers in the first 16 minutes of play, they also shot an abysmal 22 percent (8-0f-35) from the floor. Meanwhile, they allowed Stuart Hall to make just as many shots (8) on nearly half of the attempts (19).
“We knew we had to sit down defensively and out offense was going to come from out defense,” said Irish guard Elijah Flowers. “We just had to make a couple of adjustment and we’d be good from there.”
Coming out of the locker room, Sacred Heart Cathedral and Stuart Hall began to trade baskets, and after drawing even at 27, the Irish set off on an 11-4 run of their own, ballooning their lead to seven and holding the Knights scoreless for the final four minutes of the third quarter.
Sacred Heart Cathedral’s strangling defense would continue carry over to the fourth quarter, as the Irish did not allow a Stuart Hall point until the 4:21 mark.
“We just had to be tough and physical,” said Sacred Heart Cathedral forward Oscar Cheng. “Communicating on defense and getting back was important.”
With the defense locking in, the Irish hit their stride offensively, scoring 36 of their eventual 57 points in the second half.
Most of the scoring load was carried by Cheng, who would finish with a game-high 19 points. For Cheng, named the game’s MVP, high efficiency was the name of the game, as he was a perfect 8-for-8 from the field.
“I like that little spin and turnaround,” Cheng said. “That little jump hook works for me.”
In the final minutes of the fourth quarter, as Sacred Heart Cathedral’s lead swelled to 14 points, Stuart Hall would make a final push, scoring seven unanswered points in the last 1:30 of the game.
The Knights’ effort would be too little too late, however, as the Irish cruised to a win over their cross-town rivals.
“This was a big game for us,” Smith said. “Us both being from San Francisco and being in the WCAL [West Catholic Athletic League], it showed out there that we deserve a little more respect than we’re getting right now.”